Friday, May 11, 2007

Meditations on a potted sakaki

Does the melding of patriotism and revisionism pose a problem for contemporary Japan?

There may be nothing inherently wrong in combining nationalism/patriotism and revisionism. Indeed, the two tend to go hand-in-hand. Recent French legislation, for example, requires that French history books reverse course and teach children that those who fought pour L'Empire in France's colonial conflicts were "fighting the good fight".

Inspiring national renewal through a reframing of the national ethos seems on the whole a cheap method of realizing the reform of a nation.

What is problematic for the Japanese version of national renewal on the spiritual and intellectual plane is its collision with the rote application of the formula "all compensation and apology issues were handled at the time of the normalization of diplomatic relations." While a niggling unwillingness to reopen discussions upon an ugly topic may be a smart strategy for avoiding lawsuits, it is a dumb way of handling dynamic shifts in the social and intellectual environments of neighboring countries.

In the case of South Korea, China and most of the ASEAN countries, normalization of diplomatic relations was carried out with a government led by a dictator. What "the people" thought and felt about Japan and the Japanese were ignored. Indeed the feelings of "the people" represented a threat to all those seated at the table at the normalization talks.

The result of this exclusion of the citizens of Asia from the normalization process was a stunted hansei on the Japanese side--some would even call it a dishonest, shambling and weaselish hansei -- done with a wink and a smile as the tyrant offered Japan his forgiveness.

As Asia has democratized over the last two decades, the long-suppressed resentments and hatreds lurking in the hearts of the people have been seeping out (sometimes with more than a little help from governments trying to bolster their own legitimacy). Successive Japanese governments have tried to keep a lid on these sentiments by pointing out the straitjacket Japan has put on itself (the parallel strategy of trying to buy friendship by slinging about fantastic amounts of foreign aid having not worked out quite so well).

Under the progressive nationalisms of Hashimoto and Koizumi, however, the straitjacket was loosened. Under the Abe Clique's ministrations, the straitjacket may indeed be removed.

What will Japan's diplomats point to then?

And what is the strategy for dealing with a democratized China? South Korea had at least the presence of U.S. Eighth Army to detract some of the Korean nationalist movement's attention. South Korea was never the #1 trade or investment partner of Japan. With Korea's population being much smaller than Japan's, South Korean hatred has been, in a certain sense, manageable.

The feelings of an awakened mass of 1.3 billion Chinese, however, are probably beyond management--even by the highly persuasive methods employed by China's government. As hundreds of millions of Chinese enter the middle class, they will call into question the deals that have been done in their name. At some point, whimpering "But we had a deal with Mao Zedong!" will engender the response "Oh yeah, the guy who unified China only to drive it into penury and spiritual destitution. Well guess what, now you are dealing with me!"

So my advice: cool it on the cute potted plant tricks. Now and forever.


Anonymous said...

Jennifer Lind's study, "Sorry States" points out that apologies are effective between state, but there is a danger of domestic flashback. Is the potted plant insurance for this flashback or is it antagonism for Japan's neighbors? It seems that the leadership is not quite sophisticated enough (or sophisticated and don't care), and will continue attempts to split hairs and make all sides happy.

MTC said...

Dear Colonel:

Abe and his coterie probably think that they have managed to pull a fast one on the Chinese.

The problems with this cheeky gesture may not be immediately apparent. My understanding is that Chinese policy is fleshed out in a consensual manner once a year. It then remains static until the next annual policy meeting.

The Hu-Wen line of muting criticism of Japan is the mainstream policy for now. However, the policy is likely to be reexamined and reworked in advance of whatever it is they have now as a replacement for the August Beidaihe leaderhip retreats.

Those in the CCP leadership and the PLA opposed to the current rapprochement with Japan will file this incident away, pulling it ou for use as ammunition in their own policy offensive in the buildup to the annual meetings.

Anonymous said...

Hu-Wen & Co are not without resources.

On May 9th, there was a story that China had found but another unreported Comfort Woman.

She is said to be "now one of the few known living former "comfort women" in China." Maybe, there are more to be known...

In case you missed it, see the China Daily,

Lyons Wakeman